A photo of early Vineyard worship with Vineyard founder John Wimber
After stumbling into what Pentecostals and some charismatics call the “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” I had no idea what was next. Who could I tell about this mystical experience, one of tangible peace and joy, and one where I began speaking in tongues?
I met with my pastor, who was helpful in sorting through the theology of my experience and learning how to articulate my growing convictions, but he had no experience with such things and took an “open but cautious” stance on the charismatic gifts. Eventually, I opened up to some of my best Christian friends, receiving mixed responses but little direction. None of them had experienced these things, and several of them disapproved of all charismatic phenomena.
Nobody I was close to knew much about this experience outside of YouTube clips of hotline preachers. But I was desperate to nurture whatever God was doing in me, confident that she was.
I was getting desperate. And then I remembered that I had several acquaintances that were involved in a Filipino charismatic Catholic community. Though I barely knew any of them, I knew I needed their help. I reached out to one of them in the hallway, asking if we could talk about the whole Holy Spirit-thing sometime. Her face was surprised, not expecting somebody she barely knew to bring this up casually, but immediately she began telling me about her experiences and how her community operated in the gifts. After that I began having more and more conversations about the Spirit-baptism, miracles, and charismatic ministry. If I had any inkling that somebody was into that sort of thing, I made sure to find a way to dive into this conversation with them.
A woman at my church heard from her son that I was teaching about the Holy Spirit among the youth. When she approached me to talk about this, I was ready to be rebuked for being a heretic, or crossing a boundary. Instead, though, she affirmed what God was doing in my life and gifted me with a box full of DVDs, CDs, and books. All the CDs and DVDs were from seminars taught by John Wimber, the most well-known founder of the neo-charismatic Vineyard denomination, and all the books were by him as well. As I listened and read, I discovered an integrated Evangelical spirituality that valued mysticism and biblical authority; tradition and new wineskins. The way Wimber ministered was not typical of charismatics; no hype and grounded in deep listening. Wimber’s theology celebrated God being present and alive but also embraced the eschatological tension of the “not yet.” He was different.
When I moved after high school, I immediately found a Vineyard church and met a faith community that in many ways embodied what I loved about Wimber’s teachings. In that church I learned about listening to the nudges and whispers of God, witnessed healing and received prophetic words, experienced ministry fueled by love, and was even water-baptized. I was only there for a year, but my experiences with/in the Vineyard molded much of how I think and believe now. Though I am not a conservative Evangelical any longer, I believe much of what I learned from the Vineyard led me to Friends.
Which makes sense, considering Vineyard came from Friends.
Vineyard as Charismatic Quakers?
John Wimber began following Jesus in a programmed Evangelical Quaker church. As Christianity Today put it, Wimber was a “beer-guzzling, drug-abusing pop musician, who was converted at the age of 29 while chain-smoking his way through a Quaker-led Bible study.” Later on he began pastoring in this congregation and first became recognized by others as a successful “soul-winner”, earning him the position of leading the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth. After several years of pastoring, both Wimber and his wife became more and more convinced that there was more to the Spirit’s ministry and began experiencing the charismatic gifts with other Friends. One Vineyard website reveals why and how this led to the birth of a new movement:
As the Holy Spirit continued to move, Carol was involved in a small group named ‘Afterglow’ with her friends from the Quaker church. As they focused their attention on the Holy Spirit, and enjoying His presence, God began to move and stories spread through the town of signs and wonders happening in this group. The Quaker church sent one of their leaders to investigate and even shut down the group; however, he visited twice and returned to the elders saying: ‘I can’t do it [shut the group down]. It’s the Lord.’
Things came to a head, and John spent time with the church elders sharing that he felt this was a ‘genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit…if this is God – and I believe it is – we are going to let him do whatever he wants to do with us.’
As these experiences were counter to the direction in which this Quaker church was moving at the time John and Carol, with the generous blessing of the Quakers were encouraged to resign their membership, and together with about sixty other people connected with Don McClure and became the Yorba Linda Calvary Chapel in May 1977.
After this group of Quakers was released by their yearly meeting, they associated with Calvary Chapel, a network of newly-formed churches that exploded in growth during the Jesus Movement. After some disagreements with Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel, Wimber’s church came under authority of a loose-knit association of churches called “Vineyard.” It was then that Kenn Gulliksen, who founded Vineyard, trusted Wimber with leadership over this growing church network. Soon after, the Vineyard began rapidly planting churches and Wimber became a leading figure in Evangelicalism and the wider church. It can be argued that many practices that Evangelicals find common-place today, such as arm-raising, intimate worship songs, listening prayer, and prayer ministries in general, were normalized by the Vineyard’s widespread influence.
Interestingly enough, Yorba Linda Vineyard Church, pastored by John Wimber’s daughter-in-law Christy Wimber, makes it clear on their website that they treasure their Quaker roots. “People often think the Vineyard Movement came from that of a Calvary Chapel, when in fact, we are Quakers at the root of who we are; and Vineyard roots are Quaker roots. We have a high value for our Quaker heritage and are very grateful for all God taught us through the amazing Quaker family.”
When interviewed, John’s wife Carol was asked if the early Vineyard could be identified as “charismatic Quaker,” and she replied, “Yes, though we had never read Fox’s Journal. Reading it later, we wondered what our contemporaries were so upset about!” She went on to say, “A movement of the Spirit happened in our group—for which generations of Quakers had prayed for years, but had no idea how it would look when it came—and when it did happen, it didn’t really fit with Quaker theology at that time. Of course, if it had happened three hundred years before, in George Fox’s day, it would have been fine!”
Carol Wimber had a point. She still has a point.
When it comes to Spirit-attentive worship and ministry, the Vineyard manifests Quaker spirituality in a way that is faithful to the Evangelical tradition, but truly mystical, and of course deeply Quaker. They live out a Quakerism many of today’s American Quakers, both Liberal and Orthodox, would find laughable, backwards. George Fox, on the other hand, may get it.
In that same article, she connects the revival experienced in the early Vineyard to its roots in Quakerism:
“In the Quaker worship, they have what they call ‘communion.’ It’s a time of silence, but if someone has a song from the Lord or a word or a teaching, they are supposed to speak out then. And every once in awhile someone would sing out some beautiful song or have a little short teaching or a little revelation—though they would not have called it that. So we were no strangers to a move of the Spirit—the later outpouring was merely an increase of what had been already happening.”
What’s so Quaker about the Vineyard Church?
Many of the distinctives and gifts of the Vineyard are undeniably tied to its roots in Quakerism.
The Vineyard strongly believes that ministry was not the job of the paid clergy alone, but every member of Christ’s body. As Wimber used to put it, “Everybody gets to play.” Worship was a corporate participatory experience, as all can listen and follow the Spirit. Though silence does not often play a role in the Vineyard liturgy, the act of listening to God, waiting upon the Spirit, is vital to Vineyard’s culture of prayer.
Their inclusive, egalitarian nature of ministry had everything to do with their charismatic conviction that the Holy Spirit dwells in all believers. Wimber’s mission was to empower the whole Church to realize this truth, declaring, “We are called to demystify the gifts of the Spirit and we are called to put the ministry of the Holy Spirit back into the hand of the church! The ministry of the Holy Spirit is for every man, woman and child in the body of Christ. All the gifts of the Spirit are for all of us! When everyone and anyone can heal the sick or cast out a demon or prophesy, then the danger of anyone becoming overly impressed with the ‘minister’ is diminished.”
This conviction in equality has always been controversial, and remains that way. Christy Wimber recently wrote, “I’ve received a lot of flack in the area of allowing people to participate in Kingdom work who haven’t been ‘around long enough.’ Maybe someone who just came off drugs, or if having a tough time getting a job, or they don’t know all our ‘Christianese.’ They don’t seem qualified yet, but the truth is, they’re already leading if people are following them. And I’m either going to take a risk and bless what I see God doing, or try to shut them down. You can’t make people follow you, at least for long, and you and I can’t make people anointed. So if God obviously anoints a person for a reason, I’m either going to pastor and allow them to play or allow the fear of what could go wrong win out. If the model was good enough for Jesus, it has to be good enough for us. John used to say all the time, ‘We have to let the bush grow and then we trim it back.’ The early Vineyard was just a bunch of young hippies; the ministry team was all young people. Yet people still got saved, healed, and delivered. God got His work done!”
Carol Wimber claimed that the Vineyard’s convictions in equality and simplicity came from their background in Evangelical Quakerism:
“The man who led us to the Lord used to talk about the responsibility and the wonder that we walked around with the presence of God dwelling in us. Also, in that Quaker church there was simplicity, and lack of ambition. The man who led us to the Lord was a welder. The foundation of the church was everyday, simple people. They dressed down, they drove Chevys instead of Cadillacs, even though some of them were quite wealthy.
Anybody felt comfortable and welcome in that church. There was no great gap between the clergy and the laity. We didn’t even use those words in the Quaker church. The big thing was whether we would love people, how we led our lives before them, and whether our faith was real. Also, there was a strong sense that we have a responsibility to let Christ live his life in us—that we have an important part to play in this process—and that eventually living that way would be the most natural thing in the world to do.”
Carol went on to connect the Vineyard’s convictions on social justice to their former Quakerism.
“A big value among the Quakers is a concern for the poor, and it’s very plain in the scriptures. And we were reading the Bible as though for the first time, asking the Lord to show us what he was really saying in the passages. And the passages about caring for the poor came with great impact. At the same time, John was visiting a church somewhere in the South, in a very poor area, and this old evangelist with no voice left anymore and who could barely read or write was calling the people back to their first call, which was the call to the poor. But he was calling John for the first time, even though John was supposed to be there as the ‘expert’ from Fuller! John was overwhelmed with the reality of our responsibility. The Gospel is for the poor and the oppressed. The preaching of the gospel among them will be just as effective as it is anywhere else. To John, to be a Christian was to give to the poor. It was just part of it. John died believing that once we separate ministry to the poor from the rest of the Christian life and our life as a church, we’re dead in the water.”
John wrote, “Carol and I believe that the main reason God’s hand has stayed on the Vineyard is because of our commitment to the poor and needy. Serving the poor isn’t an option for us. It is a life or death matter, and we have no choice here.”
How the Vineyard led me to Friends
I discovered Wimber’s writing on nonviolence in one of his booklets (and later about his pacifism from my friend Micael) and knew I had to expand my understanding of ministry and even the gospel. As I read more and more of Wimber, I became more and more aware of the holistic nature of the gospel and how justice and liberation for the oppressed is a vital aspect of it. What I generally saw in Evangelicalism seemed to divorce justice in the here-and-now from Christ’s message of liberation.
My church at the time had a trend going around the congregation of making drastic life changes in order to more fully live out the gospel. Some left behind full-time positions and others changed their vocation completely in order to devote more time to ministry, whether that was visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, or volunteering at an after-school program. Some became missionaries abroad.
Many members also began downsizing to simplify their lives, ridding themselves of distractions and potential idols, and also in order to be able to give more financially to justice ministries and organizations they believed in.
I began seeing that the gospel required sacrifice that looked like something. It wasn’t just a one-time sacrifice, either, but it meant being attentive to what “the Father is doing,” as oft-repeated in the Vineyard. It required listening to the Spirit and hearing from God’s heart. The justice work of the Vineyard, in my experience, is grounded in intimacy with God and led by the Spirit.
The emphasis on the Holy Spirit being within, empowering all believers to let “Christ live his life in us,” as Carol Wimber put it, was also a revelation that was vital in leading me to Friends. I became convinced over time that the clergy-laity distinction was not biblical or “gospel order” and that Christ desired to minister through all people. The open-worship of unprogrammed Friends appealed to me for this reason.
When my view of the Bible began to shift away from Evangelical orthodoxy, I began to see that the things I was starting to believe in had already been realized in the Society of Friends, from their theology to their worship. These Friends did not venerate a book, but they knew a person, their inward teacher. They knew the Word of God could not be contained in a book but experienced in a person, in a living God. I read the stories of early Friends in awe, hungering for the worship they experienced. I wanted to be in a body that depended on the Spirit like that. I wanted to corporately experience the baptism of fire. I wanted to hear God speak through all of God’s children. I also hungered to fight for justice like they did. Their willingness to surrender their lives fully to the gospel, living in solidarity with the oppressed, remaining firm in their convictions even when it caused them to be jailed and tortured. Their fight for justice was real, and it reminded me of the Jesus I fell in love with.
I can’t exactly claim these exact things from the Vineyard led me to Friends, but they definitely pushed me in this direction.